Staunton, August 23 – Alyaksandr Lukashenka says that he is “surprised” that some hierarchs, priests and laity have begun to participate in protests against him. “The church is not for politics,” he says. And his government “will not look on with indifference” to those who try to change that (ahilla.ru/lukashenko-prigrozil-svyashhennosluzhitelyam-kotorye-podderzhali-protestuyushhih-v-belarusi/).
That threat appears to be directed in the first instance at the Belarusian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, the country’s largest and hitherto most submissive of its religious denominations, given that Roman Catholics, Protestants and Muslims have been more supportive of the protests.
The BOC of MP has responded with a statement designed to distance Metropolitan Pavel from the actions of his clergy and parishioners by declaring that any actions or statements by individuals are the personal opinions of those who make them rather than reflecting the church as a whole (church.by/news/ob-uchastii-verujushih-v-obshestvenno-politicheskoj-zhizni).
The statement declares that “the Belarusian Orthodox Church cannot remain on the sidelines of what is taking place” in its country because it wants to see restored peace and concord among the population. But in so doing, it does not sanction as official the views and actions of individual believers or priests.
Further, it reminds the clergy about the promises they have made “before God not to take part in the political life of society” and not to be tempted to provoke or become the occasion for the division of its people. They should not be calling for participation in protests or non-participation as that is not the function of the church.
Instead, clergy and laity should be focused on their own salvation and on the contents of a new prayer, “On the Belarusian People,” which Metropolitan Pavel has called to be read out in all the Orthodox churches of the country. Moreover, the statement says that the Church calls on all residents of Belarus to join “our common church prayer.”
This is unlikely to calm the situation. Instead, ever more hierarchs, priests, and laity are likely to see this call for quiescence as an appeal to go back to the Soviet-era understanding of the role of the church, something Lukashenka may very much want but that appeals of this kind are likely to have the unintended consequence of further exacerbating the situation.